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The Motor Rangers Through the Sierras By John Henry Goldfrap Characters: 11180

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"That came pretty near being like the time we collided with the hay wagon in Lower California," commented Joe, as the auto got under way, with her cumbersome tow rattling along behind.

"Yes, only this time we didn't hit," laughed Nat, who had quite recovered from the strain of those terrible moments when it seemed that they must go crashing into the stage.

"A m-m-m-miss is as g-g-g-good as a m-m-m-mile any day," said Ding-dong, as his contribution to the conversation.

As Cal Gifford had said, the road was a gentle gradient between steep mountain ranges. Consequently, the towing of the coach was an easy matter. The two boys in the tonneau steered it by giving the pole a push or a tug as occasion required-much as they would have handled the tiller of a boat. When the stage showed signs of coming ahead too fast Cal shoved the foot brake forward, at once checking the impetus.

Quite a small crowd turned out to witness the strange scene as the two vehicles rolled into Lariat. The place was a typical western mountain station. There was a small post-office, two or three rough houses and a hotel. In the heydey of gold mining, Lariat had been quite a flourishing place, but the hand of decay was upon it at the present time. The hotel, however, was, as Ding-dong noticed, apparently open for business. At least several loungers arose from their chairs on the porch, and came forward with exclamations of surprise, as the two conveyances lumbered into town.

Nat shut off power in front of the post-office and at the same time Cal applied and locked the brakes, bringing the stage likewise to a standstill. The postmaster, a long, lanky Westerner, with a much-patched pair of trousers tucked into boot tops, was already out in front of his little domain.

"Ther horses be back in ther barn," he volunteered, as Cal looked at him questioningly. "They come galloping in here like a blue streak an hour ago."

"Yep, bin held up again," Cal volunteered as the crowd gathered about the stage, "and ef it hadn't been for these bubble boys here we wouldn't hev got inter town yit."

"Take everything, Cal?" asked the postmaster.

"Yep; stock, lock and barrel, as the feller says. Left us our vallibles, though. I reckon they would have taken them if it hadn't bin for the noise this here gasolene giglet made as it come over ther hill. Thet scared 'em, and they galloped off, takin' ther plugs with 'em."

"Consarn 'em! I reckon they're some of Col. Merced Morello's gang. They've bin active hereabouts lately. Jes heard afore you come in thet they'd raided a ranch up north an' tuk two hundred head of stock."

"Outrageous! Outrageous!" exclaimed the white-whiskered man, who had been listening with an angry, red countenance, "why does not some one capture them?"

"Well, sir," rejoined the postmaster, "if you kin tell us whar ter find 'em we'll furnish ther men to smoke 'em out. But up to date no one ain't bin able ter git a glimpse of 'em. They jes' swoop down and then vanish ag'in."

"They've got some hidin' place off in the mountins," opined Cal; "but you can bet that the old colonel's foxy enough ter keep it close, wherever it is."

"Betcher life," said one or two in the crowd who had heard.

While this had been going on the Motor Rangers had been hard at work unhitching their car from the stage. In this operation they had been considerably bothered by the crowd which, never having seen an auto before, elbowed right up and indulged in comment and investigation. Ding-dong caught one bewhiskered old fellow in the very act of abstracting a spark plug. The boy promptly switched on the current and the investigator, with a wild yell, hopped backward into the crowd, wringing his hand.

"The critter bit me," he explained to the crowd. Such was his explanation of the sharp electric shock he had received.

The proprietor of the hotel now hastened up, and began urging the passengers on the stage to stay the night in his hotel. Another stage went on from Lariat, and after a run of sixty miles struck the railroad in the valley. This stage was to start in half an hour. After a hasty meal the white-whiskered man and his family, and several of the other passengers, decided to continue their journey. The boys, however, after a consultation, came to the determination to spend the night at Lariat.

Their first care had been to hunt up the blacksmith Cal had referred to, and to give into his hands the connecting rod. He promised to have it welded as good as new by morning. This arranged, the boys sauntered back to the hotel just in time to watch the other stage pull out. On a rear seat sat the white-whiskered man. He was still boiling, despite the fact that the robbers had not harmed him or his family in any way. In fact, he occasionally simmered over.

The last the boys saw of him he had gotten hold of a fat, good-natured little man, who looked like a drummer, and they could hear frequent exclamations of "Bah!" coming back toward them, like the explosions of a rapid-fire gun. A moment later the stage vanished behind a rocky turn in the road.

Soon after the boys were called in to supper. Among the company at the meal was a tall man with a black mustache drooping down each side of his mouth in typical Western fashion.

"He looks like the pictures of Alkali Ike," remarked Joe in an undertone as they concluded the meal and arose, leaving the black-mustached man and the others still eating.

Outside they found it was a beautiful night. The storm of the afternoon had laid the dust, and the moon was rising

brilliantly in the clear and sharp atmosphere peculiar to the high regions of the Sierras. In the silvery radiance every rock and bush was outlined sharply. The road lay between black curtains of mountainside, like a stretch of white ribbon.

"Let's go for a stroll," suggested Nat, as they stood about on the veranda wondering what they could do with themselves till bedtime.

The other two were nothing loath, and so, without bothering to say a word to any one, the lads sauntered off down the road. The balmy scent of pines and the mountain laurel hung heavily in the air. Nat inhaled it delightedly.

"I tell you, fellows, this is living," he exclaimed.

"You bet," agreed Joe heartily.

"T-t-t-that p-p-pie was f-f-fine," said the unpoetical Ding-dong, smacking his lips at the recollection of the dessert.

"There you go," said Nat in mock disgust, "always harping on eating."

"T-th-that's b-b-better-phwit-than eating on harpoons, isn't it?" asked Ding-dong, with a look of injured innocence.

"I said harping on eating. Not harpoons on eating," retorted Nat.

"Oh," said Ding-dong. "Well, don't wail about it."

"Say, if you make any more puns I'll chuck you down into that canyon," threatened Joe, pointing downward into a black abyss which, at the portion of the road they had now reached, yawned to one side of the thoroughfare.

"You make me chuckle," grunted the incorrigible Ding-dong, avoiding the threatened fate, however, by clambering and hiding behind a madrone tree.

"Tell you what I'll do," cried Nat suddenly.

"Well, what?" demanded Joe, as Nat stopped short.

"I'll run you fellows a race to the bottom of the hill."

"You're on," cried Ding-dong from his retreat, and emerging immediately thereafter, "don't bust your emergency brake though, or we'll have more trouble."

He peered ahead down the moonlit canyon, and noted that the road was quite steep for a distance of about a quarter of a mile.

The boys were all good runners and experts, in fact, at all branches of athletics. Their blood fairly tingled as Nat lined them up and they stood awaiting the word "go."

At last it came.

Like arrows from so many bows the three boys shot forward, Ding-dong in the lead. How his stubby legs did move! Like pistons in their speed and activity. There was no question about it, Ding-dong could run. Five feet or so behind him came Joe and at his rear was Nat, who, knowing that he was ordinarily a faster runner than either, had handicapped himself a bit.

He speedily overhauled the others, however, although Ding-dong gave him a stiff tussle. Reaching the finishing line, Nat looked back up the moonlit road. Ding-dong and Joe were speeding toward him neck and neck.

"Go it, Ding-dong!" yelled Nat, "come on, Joe."

In a cloud of dust and small rocks the two contestants rushed on. Suddenly one of Ding-dong's feet caught in a rock, and at the impetus he had attained, the sudden shock caused him to soar upward into the air, as if he were about to essay a flight through space.

Extending his arms spread-eagle fashion, the fleshy, stuttering youth floundered above the ground for a brief second, and then, as Joe dashed across the line he came down with a resounding crash. Flat on his face he fell in the middle of the dusty road.

"Pick him up," exclaimed Nat as he saw the catastrophe.

Joe, who had by this time checked his speed, headed about after Nat, and started for the recumbent Ding-dong. As they neared his side, however, the lad jumped up with a grin on his rotund features.

"Fooled you, didn't I?" he chuckled.

"Goo-d gracious. I thought you had fractured every bone in your body," exclaimed Nat.

"Can't hurt me; I'm made of cast-iron," snickered Ding-dong.

"I always knew that applied to your head," said Joe, determined to tease the boy a bit in revenge for the fright he had given them, "but I never realized before that the complaint had spread all over you."

"I'd have won the race anyhow if I hadn't taken that tumble," retorted Ding-dong, and as this seemed to be no more than the truth the others had nothing to say in rejoinder.

"I guess we had better be getting back to the hotel," said Nat, "we want to get an early start to-morrow, so a good night's sleep will be in order."

But the words were hardly out of his mouth before he stopped short.

The boy had heard voices, apparently coming from the air above them. He soon realized, however, that in reality the speakers were on the mountain-side above them. In fact, he now saw that a trail cut into the road above the point at which they stood. In their dash down the hill they had not noticed it. The other lads, who had also heard the voices, needed no comment to remain quiet.

While they stood listening a figure appeared on the trail, walking rapidly down it. As the newcomer drew closer the boys recognized the features and tall, ungainly outline of the man with the black mustache-"Alkali Ike." He came forward as if with a definite purpose in mind. Evidently, he was not, like the boys, out for a moonlight stroll.

As he approached he stopped and listened intently. Then he gave a low, peculiar whistle. It was like the call of a night bird.

Instantly, from the hill-side above them they heard the signal-for such it seemed-replied to.

At the same instant whoever was on the hillside above began to advance downward. The boys, crouching back in a patch of shadow behind a chaparral clump, could hear the slipping and sliding of their horses' hoofs as they came down the rocky pathway.

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